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Overcoming a stroke, alcoholism at The Harbor: A graduate’s story

When it comes to basic life functions, like walking and talking, most people don’t give it a second thought. From the moment we learn to do both of those things as a toddler, they soon becomes second nature. And it was that way for Dennis too, until he was unexpectedly hit with a very serious stroke while at The Harbor.

After about 17 months in New Life Ministries, Dennis found himself at the end of the recovery program and nearing graduation. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish … at that time. After suffering his stroke, Dennis had to spend a few months at the hospital before being transferred to Glisan Care Center, where he’s been the last few months, to relearn how to walk and talk. Since then, his progress has been dramatic, and The Harbor staff was finally able to give him an honorary graduation ceremony as a result.

“It was very special,” said Bob Rapp, a Growth Leader at The Harbor. “We got to spend the whole hour on Dennis, which isn’t something we’re typically able to do.”

Dennis spent years battling alcoholism. Hailing from Jamaica, Dennis traveled much of the world on cruise ships in the hospitality business. He tried to quit drinking twice, and was unsuccessful both times. He eventually got hit with a DUI and lost his license, and it devastated him. His addiction eventually led Dennis to The Harbor.

“During Dennis’ time at The Harbor, I saw him moving from just talking a lot to truly engaging in dialogue, which includes really listening. He grew a lot,” Bob said. “Regardless of what’s being offered to Dennis, whether it’s exhortation or encouragement, or whether it’s truth in love, he takes it to heart and says thank you. It’s very refreshing. Not everyone always has that.”

It’s also a change that Dennis is clearly aware of in himself.

“I’m still learning, but I’m getting better everyday,” Dennis said. “Miracles have happened in my life since I turned my life around. … I get so much support from people, and I have to just say thanks.

Portland Rescue Mission gives people like me more than just hope. It’s not just the food and shelter, it’s saving lives. If I had continued the way I was, I would not be living today.”

Surrounded by Dennis’ brotherhood at The Harbor during the graduation, Bob pointed out that one of the things that really stood out to him about Dennis was his faith and perspective. In everything Dennis spoke about at the ceremony, God was at the center of all of it.

Dennis shows off his joy at his honorary graduation at The Harbor.

Dennis shows off his joy at his honorary graduation at The Harbor.

“He made me a different person. He showed me love and how I can experience that love away from my addictions,” Dennis said. “What God has done for me today is cleansed me. He’s cleansed me of my hunger for something other than Him. He’s helped me realize that if we leave our life up to Him, everything will be all right.

“I can do everything He has for me.”

And regardless of his learning curve in regards to walking and talking, Dennis is growing in more ways than he ever has. Alcoholism no longer has a stronghold over him. And given the chance, he’ll no longer just talk with you about those changes; he’ll dialogue with you about it from his heart.

The Harbor’s next graduation ceremony will take place on Sunday, April 19, at Crossroads Church in northeast Portland from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.